The Rediff Special/Chindu Sreedharan
'I want to die an Indian. If at any time, my country wants my blood, I will give it'
...confessions of a Pakistan-trained militant...
On August 18, Niaz Ahmed (not his real name) ended a chapter in his life he would give anything to forget -- a chapter which for six years saw him living a fugitive's life,
moving from place to place, always looking over his shoulder, always waiting, waiting for the cold hand of law, or the muzzle of a gun, to end the suspense.
That day, the fair, handsome, young man walked into a deputy commissioner of police's office in Srinagar and announced, "I am a PTM (Pakistan Trained Militant). I wish to surrender."
The DCP didn't bat an eyelid. For, militants handing themselves over is a common phenomenon these days -- every week, the police have at least three such cases. Besides, he had been told about this particular boy. He instructed an assistant to escort Ahmad to one of their less-infamous interrogation centres (there are over 12 spread over the city) which, ironically, also housed former Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Master Ahsandar, whose group Ahmad had literally run away from.
And that was where Rediff On The NeT correspondent Chindu Sreedharan and photographer Jewella C Miranda found him some two hours later.
Would he mind talking? Would he mind being photographed?
"Whatever he says," Ahmad indicated his interrogator, "But photo..?"
"No, no photographs of the face," the interrogator said, "It may get him killed. But he can talk to you if he wishes."
Ahmad had no objection. Seating himself on a wooden chair, he proceeded to relive the six years of terror, softly, in stumbling English, his fair face turning red with emotion and coming perilously close to tears more than once. This is his story:
Oh, don't ask me the reason. I don't know why I did it. I was mad. I think the youth in Kashmir were all mad then. None of
us knew what we were doing. But everybody wanted to go to Pakistan, everybody wanted to join the 'movement'.
It was 1992, you see, the height of militancy. There was a lot of propaganda all over -- through cassettes, brochures, leaflets... I was studying for my school finals. And I had met this guy, maybe two or three times, at places we hung around -- a big, bearded Kashmiri who must have been 32 or 33 years of age.
He came to my house one cold evening in February.
"You want to go to Pakistan?" he asked.
''Yes," I replied, "Will you take me?"
And that was how it began. I was asked to report to a particular house in
downtown Srinagar. Which I did, eagerly.
The room I entered was a large one. There were 20 to 21 boys like me there, including a couple of my friends. There were a few 'elders' too. They inquired whether we had warm clothes, socks and shoes -- it was pretty cold outside, and we had a long walk ahead of us.
They asked us again whether we really wanted to go to Pakistan. Though none of us knew what or which group we were getting into, we were all sure about joining the movement. All of us said yes.
So we were bundled into three-four cars and driven to Kupwara. From here, we were informed, we would have to travel by foot. We started our long, weary trek which, fed by only the fire in our belly, bread crumbs and minuscule sips of water, was to devour the next over-24 hours.
Half an hour later we stopped. We were asked to chuck whatever baggage we were carrying. "From now on, we have to move in total silence," our contact told us.
We had a guide -- a bearded, sullen mountain man. He upfront, moving cautiously, and we eager recruits and our contact following him in single file -- that was how we walked to Pakistan.
We walked the whole night over the cold countryside, stopping infrequently for brief spells. We stumbled into the next day, and we stumbled well into the next night. And, finally, when we could stumble no more, we arrived. Our guide told us we were in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan.
The first sight I remember of the promised land was army bunkers. And to these, our contact led us. No sooner had our names and addresses been entered there, we moved on.
We walked for another two hours and reached where a bus was waiting. We were transported to a safehouse. There, we were literally kept under lock and key for the next two days -- three guards ensured we did not move out.
I don't know how the others were feeling, but by this time, the whole affair was getting to me. (I suspect they were also feeling the same.) We had crossed over, but did not know where we were, or even which group we were with! This was not the way I had seen it at all.
The second morning after our arrival, our contacts returned. Twelve of us were randomly
chosen to accompany them. Blindfolded, we were bundled into another bus. We travelled the
whole day. And finally, when the blindfold was removed, we found ourselves in a training camp, in the middle of a forest. You could see nothing but mountains and trees all around.
And that was where we received our training -- or what little of it they chose to give us.
There were four instructors who taught us the basics of weaponry. We were given pistols, rifles and light machine guns. Each recruit was allotted three rounds of ammunition ('Keep your mind on the target') -- and that was it.
We stayed there for three days. Then we were transported back to our first camp. And there, I had a fight with our contacts. I asked them which group this was. They said it was the HM. I said I didn't want to join it -- I had always been against their murdering, extremist ideas.
Their answer was a few, sharp kicks. "You are with the HM now," they told me, "You have no choice."
When I still refused, they burned me with cigarettes. See, (exhibits four burn marks) this is what they did. I was too scared to resist after that.
The next day, we crossed back. This time, besides the guide, there were four militants with us who were warned not to give me any weapon, and to 'take care' of me. Again, we walked for unending hours and came in through the Baramulla side.
In Baramulla, we split up. The militants took back the rifles which had been given to the other 'trusted' recruits. We were to make our way to Srinagar on our own and meet there.
I got back to Srinagar on foot. There, I learned the police had already picked up Tariq, one of the boys with us. It was then that the enormity of what I had done struck me -- I was involved with a group which I loathed, and the police were already after me! And so would
the HM too, if I refused them.
I knew I had no hope in Srinagar. I had to leave the valley.
The following days were of pure terror. I was afraid to even show myself on the streets. I didn't know whom to be more scared of -- the police or the HM. I avoided all my hangouts, my friends, even my family. I slept at my relatives', walking in unannounced at nights and leaving early next day. This continued for weeks.
Finally, with help from my family, I got out of Srinagar. I went to Delhi where my uncle had a business. For the next two years, I stayed with him, but never felt safe. Delhi was too close -- either the HM or the police, I dreaded, would find me there.
I moved to Goa, to another relative's. I worked there as a tourist guide till 1995-end, after which I came back to Delhi. From then, till I returned to Srinagar last week, I stayed with my uncle.
You ask me why I surrendered now? I surrendered because I am sick and tired of it all. In the years I was away, so much changed in Kashmir. But I could never even visit my family. I have missed half my youth, missed so much of life...
I lived in a hell of terror and tension, guilt and fear. I have had enough, I can't take it
anymore. I can't take anymore the love and affection the Indians gave me in Delhi and Goa. Like a brother, they treated me, like an younger brother... I can't cheat them anymore.
I am a PTM, and though I haven't taken part in any militant activity, I have done wrong. I realise that.
I realise that I am an Indian. And I want to die an Indian. If at any time, my country wants my blood, I will give it. That may sound rhetoric, but it's the truth...
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